hi ho .. hi ho .. it’s up the hills we go! (Nike Womens Marathon)

Friday morning, in the wake of a rainfall warning in Vancouver, Tu Anh and I said goodbye to our water-logged city and traded it in for the sunny hills of San Francisco to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. It was a highly anticipated event for several reasons ..

  • it was a lottery system to get in
  • it was an all women’s event
  • the highly coveted Tiffany’s necklace as your finisher “medal”
  • the red carpeted finish line … lined with very attractive and fit firemen dressed in tuxedos

Now does Nike know how to get women to run an event or what?! I can’t even begin to list the ingenious ways of Nike’s marketing team ..

  • “Like a Girl” motto .. run like a girl, shop like a girl, etc.
  • Free photos and printouts at Niketown
  • The Wall at Niketown with every racer’s name
  • Ghirardelli Mile
  • Personalized Race Gear
  • Free Socks en route
  • Free Wrist Bands with motivational sayings en route
  • Free Mani’s
  • Free Pedi’s
  • Free Skin Consult with Samples from Dermatologica
  • Post Race Party at Niketown the next day with massages

Normally, I go into a race with a race plan in mind .. everything is planned with purpose down to the smallest detail. Normally. But this wasn’t under normal race circumstances. I was focused on the “big picture” .. the California International Marathon in 6 weeks. The big picture plan had me finishing 7 consecutive days of running, ending on the Thursday prior to the race, with a total of 120kms – the most i had ever run. And my body felt it .. i had a bruised ligament on the top of my right foot from rolling it at the Cross Country race 2 weeks prior and i had a slighty torn/strained tendon in my left calf.

So .. with that in mind, you can tell what sort of expectation I had for this race. On top of the body aches and what not, it was a hilly course and I, for one, am the first to admit that I am terrible at hills!

This was more of a girl bonding trip .. I was meeting two girl friends that I went to high school with who had moved to the Bay area. So “Miss Planned-Down-To-The-Smallest-Detail-For-A-Race” did the following leading up to the race:

  • Friday, late late dinner then went out with my friends until the weeeeee hours of the night, after having a drink or two. (that’s roughly 20 hours in high heels!)
  • Saturday, after 4 hours of sleep, i got for a 1.3 mile “jog” to the expo
  • Saturday afternoon, walked around all day in flip flops shopping
  • Saturday night, light dinner but then inhaled a bunch of Japanese junk food before going to bed

Exactly. 🙂

Race day morning, we walk/jogged to the start line but i had to do a pit stop to the porta-potty. Line ups are as line ups are – disastrous! I stepped out of the porta-potty and they were starting to count down to the start. My friend Judy and I bolted across Union Square, ducked under a start carrall banner and jumped into the start area. Then, of course, slowed to a halt because no matter how well you organize it, there’s always congestion at the start of a race. I’m about to cross the start line, finger over the start button on my watch and as i pass under the clock, i noticed the time was just over 2 minutes. I pushed the button my watch and it gives me a funny sound .. i look down and realize that it has reset because I waited too long to start it! Scrambling to get my “Satellite signal”, i fumbled with my watch and finally got it to start … not quite sure how many seconds it took to start it after I had already stepped over the timing mat. Darn it!

I bolted as soon as i crossed the start line, trying to get a bit of breathing room amongst the 20,000+ runners, but also trying to be mindful not to sprint like stink and run out of steam in the first 2 miles!

Now, some habits just can’t broken .. so, even though i didn’t have a goal pace in mind, i was still keeping track of my mile splits .. missed the 1 mile marker but caught myself at mile 2 – 14:46 .. (which was actually 14:52 after i figured out the discrepancy in time between my watch and the race clock). Normally, i would calculate that down to mile pace but decided not to .. i was more focused on getting to the next mile and clearing my path a bit more.

Mile 3, 4, and 5 came and went and my mile splits didn’t seem too bad (7:23, 7:31, 7:21) .. but what I was really anticipating was THE HILL. The elevation map showed a 295′ gain over 1 mile at Mile 6 – now i’m not hill expert but that seems like a terribly long and steep hill!!! But once you’re on it, what can you do? Head down, arms relaxed, and plod along … so that’s what i did. I plodded. and plodded. and plodded. I looked up several times but it seemed neverending .. and when you thought it was over, it actually wasn’t .. it was just a “mini-break”. yay. I started to lose steam and felt that urge to .. walk. But then i remembered being at Boston and how Heartbreak hill broke my heart .. and thought about my “big picture” plan of the Sacramento marathon .. and ultimately going back to Boston .. and how i was NOT going to let it beat me. So what got me through that crazy long hill … and every subsequent hill after that?”

Heartbreak Hill my A$$….. no way it’s going to break me this time!”

And surprisingly, it worked! Each hill, although difficult, was conquered.

At Mile 9 to 10, there was a steep downhill (after climbing an uphill, of course) and I let gravity propel me down when, out of nowhere, I stepped in a pothole on the course .. with the foot that had the bruised ligament. I know! Yes, it hurt .. but i wasn’t going to let that stop me from finishing and finishing somewhat respectably, ESPECIALLY after climbing all those insane hills!

Now, i’m not sure if you know but after you roll your foot, that ligament goes all loosey goosey .. so the chances of rolling it again are quite high .. and even planting your foot using that joint can be painful. And it was. With each and every step.

At Mile 11, I finally glanced at the clock above the marker. 1:25 .. I finally did my first calculation in my head .. 1:25 .. 15 minutes to run 2.1 miles and I’ll finish in 1:40 .. but I can’t run a 7:30/mile at the end of a half marathon – that pace is faster than my fastest half marathon. My best time to date was 1:39:25 – average 7:35/mile. So I figured I would finish in 1:42ish .. maybe 1:43 .. which was fine because I was predicting a 1:45 so that’ll be close. But then it donned on me! I crossed the start at 2 minutes and some change … which means…..!!!!! I know!!!!! I could get really really close to my best time .. and I didn’t feel too tired so definitely doable. Even if i don’t beat it .. coming close would be phenomenal!

Realizing that just gave me a extra spring in my step and i started to pick it up just a tad .. now, i know what you’re thinking – she’ll get it. So, in around this time, i take another breath .. and i’m a mouth breather … i somehow managed to swallow some saliva down the wrong tube and start choking like someone who needs the Heimlich maneuver! I didn’t have a chance to look around to see if anyone was staring but believe you me, i did NOT sound pleasant.

But…. I was able to clear my throat in what was probably 5 seconds but seemed like a lifetime!

Fast forward to the finish line .. I’m coming down the stretch and see the bright pink FINISH and i run as hard as i can to the finish but there’s no mistaking the gigantic smile across my face as i see the race clock JUST flip to 1:40 as i cross the timing mat. And as i raise my head and stumble forward a few steps, i look up and see a fine looking male specimen in a beautiful tuxedo handing me my Tiffany’s box. 😀 Yes, the smile is STILL on my face. I’m shuttled through the finish area, pick up my shirt and continue to walk through the finish area. I’m thrilled. SO SO SO SO Thrilled, with a capital T. I look at my watch and it says 1:37:27 .. BUT i know that’s off by some number of seconds .. maybe even up to 20-30 seconds .. but even still, it’s faster than I’ve ever run a half marathon before. EVER!

AND on top of that, I feel great .. my bruised ligament hurts but physically, this is better than I’ve ever felt after a half marathon. I was cruising around the area .. jogging from this tent to that tent to the gear check busses .. and ending up at the First Aid tent so they can tape my foot for that added stability. I’m stupidly happy but I’m not stupid. I didn’t need my weak foot to get hurt even more.

I walked around the area a bit more and then i hear someone call my name and it’s my girlfriend Judy. And she had just PB’d! By almost 4 minutes! We were both elated – she conquered those hills WHILE she was sick.

For the rest of the day .. and even days afterwards, we were both walking on Cloud 9.

My official time was 1:37:29. I still can’t believe it. Now onto the bigger picture … Sacramento .. and hopefully … Heartbreak Hill my A$$ – I’m going to break you.

onward and upward .. literally ..



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